Tory conference: Activist anger over gay marriage
Ann Widdecombe voiced the feelings of many at the meeting
David Cameron could only dream of this sort of fervour when he delivers his big conference speech on Wednesday.
But it would have been a very different kind of atmosphere had the Conservative leader dared to venture into Birmingham Town Hall on Monday lunchtime.
Mr Cameron has angered a swathe of his party with his commitment to legalising gay marriage.
And a significant number of them - about 1,000 in total - ran the gauntlet of protesters outside the venue to voice their anger, dismay and, in many cases, sheer incomprehension at his stance.
The fringe event - normally sedate affairs, with bored activists picking over sandwiches - felt more like a revivalist meeting. They shouted, they cheered. They cried out "Amen".
It fell to Ann Widdecombe to put into words what they were feeling - in particular their anger at being labelled "bigots" by those campaigning for the legalisation of gay marriage.
"Is it bigoted to recognise that the complementarity of a man and a woman in a union open to procreation is unique and cannot be replicated by other unions?" she asked, to cheers.
"The real bigots, those who really deserve to be described as such, the real extremists, the real nasties, are those who believe that those who dissent from their views have no right to do so and that the state itself should silence them."
She poured scorn on the idea that the words "husband" and "wife" could be replaced in official documents by terms such as "partner" or "progenitor".
The proposal will throw up so many complications and lead to so much prejudice against teachers and foster parents who oppose gay marriage that it would be a disaster for Britain, she argued, not to mention the Conservative Party.
Protesters staged a noisy demonstration outside the venue
"It's come about because David Cameron has a very personal conviction - I do not deny wish to deny that - but unfortunately it is doing a lot of damage to the party."
For many of those present, the idea of same sex couples marrying in church is an affront to their Christian beliefs.
But, for others, it illustrates the yawning chasm between the "trendy" metropolitan world Mr Cameron inhabits and the values of traditional Conservatives.
"Why is he doing it?" asked 73-year-old Frank Barrett, from Hinckley, in Leicestershire, after the meeting.
"Why is he destroying the Conservative Party with this? Because he is. I have already told my MP if he votes for the change I will not vote for him again.... It's suicidal really."
Gayle Brown, a retired religious education teacher, said she would not have pounded the pavements at the last election if this proposal had been in the party's manifesto.
"This is a truth that has been in the arena for 2,000 years. I don't think even David Cameron has a right to challenge that," she told BBC News.
The Coalition for Marriage, which organised the event has collected more than 600,000 signatures calling for the coalition to drop its proposals.
If it goes to a free vote in the Commons, they accept that they will probably lose but they hope to put enough pressure on Conservative MPs, and those from other parties, to get the government to shelve it.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey spoke about the special place marriage between a man and a woman had in Christian teaching, adding: "The matter is so serious... that we cannot allow politicians to plunder something as sacred as this institution."
He said he had the "highest regard" for David Cameron but hoped the prime minister would have a change of heart.
And then - in a way that only a high-ranking member of the clergy can - he put the boot in.
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